It’s a stressful period for parents when your child is about to start school for the first time. You have to scurry around to find schools with the right curriculum, location, fee structure and extracurricular activities. And if that wasn’t enough, after you’ve shortlisted schools, you have to worry about registration deadlines, waiting lists and school assessments.

Finding the right school: where do you begin?

Dubai resident and mum of two, Enas, recently went through the tedious process of finding the right school. Having moved to the UAE seven years ago from the US, Enas relied on word of mouth to shortlist schools for their three-year old son, Yousef.

“Our friends were the best source of information on schools. Usually, they would recommend schools which one of their kids go to. We also carried out some online research to shortlist schools.”

Besides word of mouth, Enas looked for schools with some basic criteria in mind. “We were looking for British curriculum and IB schools as we felt it was the ideal curriculum for our son during the first few years of school. We were interested in schools with mixed nationalities and expressed the diversity of Dubai. Also, schools which were academically strong and offered ample amount of extracurricular activities.”

[Compare schools in the UAE | Related: Most viewed schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, June-Dec 2014]

Large or small classrooms? What’s best for your child?

When choosing the right school for you child, the size of the classroom matters for some parents. Interestingly, Enas opted for schools with smaller classes where teachers would be able to give children better attention. She didn’t want  Yousef to go through a drastic change by moving from a small nursery to a big school with large classrooms and many kids. It was also one of the main reasons why Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) was her first choice. The school had three classes for FS1 with 20 kids in each class, providing the exact environment Enas was looking for.

[Related: American curriculum schools in Dubai Special needs education: Finding a school in the UAE ]

Securing a seat for your child

So you’ve narrowed your options down to a few schools, how do you secure a seat for your child? Due to the limited availability of seats for FS1, getting a spot can prove to be a challenge.

“Our first choice was JESS but they put him on a waiting list as they have limited spots. As a backup, we booked a spot for Yousef at Horizon school but we had to pay an advance tuition of around AED 9,000 to keep his spot for the new school year. This money will be lost if JESS accepts Yousef.”

[Related: Abu Dhabi and Dubai school registration dates for 2015-16]

Passing the assessment test

Parents find going though FS1 assessments a nerve-racking experience, since the child’s performance during the assessments determines whether or not they are going to be accepted. While most schools allow parents to be present during the assessment, few do ask the parents to leave. Separating from the parents can end up upsetting the child and affecting their performance.

[Related: FS1/FS2 Assessment at Horizon International School

Luckily for Enas the experience was a pleasant one. Yousef was assessed in three schools in Dubai – Horizon, JESS and Kings.

“I am lucky in the sense that Yousef is a confident child and separates easily from me. This helped during the assessment. But all schools did mention that if the child was not separating easily, the parent can stay and this would not affect the grading at all. I think if a child doesn’t separate easily from the parent then they should be allowed to stay in the room during the assessment room. If the child is happy they are more likely to be themselves and perform better.”

And did she pay anything extra for assessment? “Interestingly enough, while no school asked me for any extra fees for assessment, at Repton I was asked for AED 1,000 on top of the AED 500 registration fee.”

If you are one of those parents whose nerves are getting the better of them, Enas advises to prepare your child for the FS1 assessments in advance.”Make the process sound like fun and during the assessment stay calm and keep your child calm as well.”